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Writing Exercise 3

            Now that the importance of microbes to our health is no longer disputed, it is important to consider just how different activities individuals engage in can affect their microbial health. A huge topic of interest currently is the microbial health of the gut, and what factors influence it. The purpose of this weeks post will be to brainstorm some behaviors that could have an influence on gut microflora, and whether that influence is positive, negative, or neutral.

            One example of a behavior that could influence gut microflora is consumption of water. Water is a necessity for us, and most likely also for our microflora. People are constantly told to drink more water as it has been proven to be beneficial in a plethora of ways, so why not also for gut health? Although it is possible that too much water could have a negative influence on gut health, it is likely that that amount of water would be too large for a person to consume. Just like we require water to conduct our normal metabolic processes, bacteria do as well, and providing them with it is likely beneficial for us, as then they can conduct their natural processes that aid in the mutualism between us.

            Another example of a gut microflora influencing behavior is anal sex. Assuming that the gut is defined as the entirety of the intestinal tract and stomach, the portion of the gut involve in anal sex would be prone to exposure of foreign bacteria. This bacteria would likely pose a risk to microbial gut health as it is not a bacteria that is naturally occurring in the gut, and could even pose some pathogenic risk. However, one could also argue that anal sex could actually be beneficial microbially. By inoculating the gut with foreign bacteria, you are increasing the diversity of the gut microflora. As long as there are no pathogenic bacteria present, this could benefit the gut microflora.

            My final example of a gut microflora influencing behavior is diet. This behavior in terms of gut microbial health has been vastly studied, and it has been well established that there is a strong link between the two. In class, we discussed how the use of nutritional changes has aided in the battle against Chron’s disease. Countless other studies have sought to determine the link between specific compounds present in the diet and specific gut microbes. Diet is a behavior that can influence gut microbial health in positive, negative, and neutral ways. Some foods will have no effect on gut microbial health, while others can change your microflora composition for better or worse. For example, the consumption of a certain type of food that is not normally consumed often could be linked to an increase in the concentration of a certain gut microbe. This increase in this particular microbe’s concentration would increase the concentration of any metabolic byproducts that this microbe produces. Although when the concentration of these byproducts is normal it doesn’t affect you, when the concentration is much higher than normal it may have detrimental side effects.

            In conclusion, there are many ways that our gut microflora can be altered. It is important that science established what behaviors result in positive, negative, and neutral outcomes regarding our gut microflora.

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Writing Exercise 2

The logistics surrounding vaccinations and prevention of certain diseased can be daunting and depressing. We simply don’t have the money to provide clinically studied vaccinations to all strains of a virus, nor can we ensure that people would actually go to receive these vaccinations. When we consider raw statistics, the likelihood of people going out of their way to get vaccinations for a very niche strain of a virus that causes detrimental effects in a very small percentage of those that acquire it is extremely low, assuming the population is educated.

            However, we know that this is not the case, but people do have a tendency to take care of the prevention of a certain virus when it is talked about a lot or they know something about it. Take the coronavirus for example. Once a vaccination is available for the virus, it is very likely that a very large percentage of the population will go out of their way to get the vaccination. For certain strains of HPV however, this is likely not the case.

            Aside from this, the cost of providing a vaccination for HPV strains that are responsible for only 20% of the cases of cervical cancer in which HPV is relates is astronomical. Due to this fact, we must consider preventing the strains that cause the majority of cancers, not because the others are unimportant, but because we should help the greatest number of people with the resources that we have available.

            HPV strains 16, 18, 31, and 35 are responsible for 80% of all of the cases of cervical cancer. The other strains make up the other 20%. Strains 16 and 18 are already vaccinated for, thus, if a new treatment were to be developed, I would suggest that treatments against strains 31 and 35 are developed before treatments against other strains, because this would benefit the greatest number of people.

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Writing Exercise #1

“Non-Infectious” Diseases

When many people hear the term non-infectious disease, they tend to think that these are disease states that cannot be attained through contact with a particular organism or pathogen. This line of thinking likely stems from the definition of the word infectious, which is “a disease or disease-causing organism likely to be transmitted to people, organisms, etc. though the environment.” Some examples of diseases of this kind discussed in the lecture for this course are heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, although there are many others. We have already challenged the notion that these diseases are non-infectious in lecture, but further elaboration may be required in order for not only laypeople, but those well versed in science, to understand why this notion may be true.

Let’s begin with an analysis of cancer. Cancer is caused when a cell exhibits uncontrolled growth to the point where it is harmful to the organism. We have linked many genetic and external factors to the causation of cancer, but generally those external factors have some effect on the DNA, which causes the cell to replicate and grow uncontrollably. An example of this is smoking. Cigarette smoke contains many carcinogenic chemicals that can damage the DNA in the cells of the lungs. Our bodies have mechanisms to repair DNA and to locate cells that may have become cancerous and kill them before the cancer propagates, but after repeated and frequent exposure to cigarette smoke, lung cancer is likely.

This link to cancer is what deems these chemicals to be carcinogens, but can only toxic chemicals be deemed carcinogenic? Can a microorganism also be considered to be carcinogenic if there is a correlation between said microorganism and cancer? It is reasonable to respond with no to this question, and I actually agree with that response. Although there is a correlation between the microorganism and the cancer, by definition, a carcinogen is a chemical or substance that has the potential to cause cancer, not a microorganism. However, this does not mean that the microorganism is not producing some chemical that IS carcinogenic. If a novel microorganism of the lungs was discovered that excreted one of the same carcinogenic chemicals that cigarette smoke contained, it would be very heavily linked to cancer. Although it is the chemical itself that is causing the cancer, if the organism were not present in the lungs, there would be no cancer. If this microorganism could be inhaled or find its way into the lungs another way, it would be deemed infectious. Given all of this information, we have effectively proven that cancer CAN in fact, be in infectious disease.

This same line of thinking can be applied to practically all other diseases currently deemed non-infectious diseases. Microorganisms are so incredibly important to our well-being and normal bodily function that it is completely feasible to think that even a small change in the concentration of certain microorganisms that are normal to parts of the body can cause a cascade of events leading to some disease state. Thus, we should consider altering our definition of non-infectious disease, as there are so many roles that microorganisms could be playing in the acquisition and/or propagation of said disease that they could be considered infectious.